Top 15 Albums of 2014

It occurred to me that with all of the craziness of the holidays, my wonderful Dad’s 60th birthday, and, you know, getting married, that I never made my top albums of 2014 post. What can I say? It was a busy time, but 2014 produced some stellar albums, so I feel compelled to report my findings. These are all, of course, based solely on my opinion. Here we go!

15. Echosmith “Talking Dreams”
Ok, so technically this full-length album was released in 2013, but Echosmith exploded on the charts in 2014 with their mega-hit Cool Kids. This group, made up of four siblings, has all the laid-back, carefree vibe that stems from their home state of California, with 80’s dance-pop influences guaranteed to put you in a good mood.

Give it a listen: Cool Kids, Come Together, Ran Off Into the Night

14. Ed Sheeran “X”
When Ed Sheeran came on the scene a few years ago, he had that shy, quiet, singer-songwriter feel that, although charming and talented, grew a little tiresome. Thankfully, for his follow-up album, Sheeran drew influences from every class of music to give his sound a more sophisticated, polished, mature appeal. When I first heard the lead-single, Sing, I thought it was Justin Timberlake. Which is only the highest of compliments.

Give it a listen: Don’t, Thinking Out Loud

13. Vance Joy “Dream Your Life Away”
Every year, there is one indie singer/songwriter that captures my attention. This year’s artist was Vance Joy, an Australian native with some pretty impressive guitar skills and a yearning vocal style that pulls at the heartstrings.

Give it a listen: Riptide, Who Am I, All I Ever Wanted

12. Banks “Goddess”
“So I’ve got itches that scratch/And sometimes I don’t got a filter/But I’m no good at eating/All of my misspoken words” I heard that line and was immediately hooked by Banks. Her sound is dark, moody, edgy and mysterious, so put on this debut album if you’re feeling particularly dark.

Give it a listen: Beggin’ for Thread, Goddess, Waiting Game

11. Rose Ave. “You + Me”
When Pink combines with City and Colour, only good things can happen. That good thing is You + Me, a country meets indie-pop album. This collection of songs feels like a couple of friends, sitting around a campfire, jamming and relaxing. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Give it a listen: Capsized, You and Me, Break the Cycle

10. Sia “1000 Forms of Fear”
Sia had one of the most visually-appealing and interesting music videos of the year with her mega-smash Chandelier. Sia has the vocal chops to prove why this is her sixth album, yet each new collection of songs feels fresh, inventive, and new.

Give it a listen: Elastic Heart, Chandelier

9. Alt-J “This Is All Yours”
Alt-J are one of those bands that are so difficult to categorize. They have definite rock influences, but also bring pop, indie, and electronic inspirations that blend into its own genre. The second album from this British group feels carefree and uplifting.

Give it a listen: Left Hand Free, Every Other Freckle

8. St. Vincent “St. Vincent”
Oh my goodness, Annie Clark can do no wrong. Clark has such a sarcastic, witty view on life and she has the guitar-shredding thing down pat. St. Vincent proves that Ms. Clark is only getting better with time.

Give it a listen: Bring Me Your Loves, Digital Witness, Rattlesnake

7. Jessie J “Sweet Talker”
Jessie J has the best vocals in pop music today. There. I said it. This girl gets so little credit for just how awesome she is. I bet you thought Bang Bang was Ariana Grande’s idea? Nope. Definitely on this awesome collection of dance-pop tracks.

Give it a listen: Ain’t Been Done, Masterpiece, Loud

6. Kongos “Lunatic”
Kongos are a group of brothers, who actually started their success in South Africa, where their father hails from. Kongos manage to incorporate accordians, group vocals, drum circles, and hand claps into a new blend of rock and roll. Anyone who can pull that off, I am an immediate fan.

Give it a listen: I’m Only Joking, Come With Me Now, Hey I Don’t Know

5. Bleachers “Strange Desire”
Bleachers takes everything amazing about 80’s pop and adds a dash of rock, interesting lyrical content, and Jack Antonoff’s charisma to power the whole project. Just don’t call it a side project.

Give it a listen: I Wanna Get Better, Rollercoaster, Reckless Love

4. Hozier “Hozier”
I am not sure how you would have missed Hozier’s mega-smash Take Me to Church, but it was truly the greatest debut single I have ever heard. Hozier has some serious vocal range from his years in an Irish choral group, as well as significant talent on the guitar. The haunting, blues-influenced tone of his entire album ensure that this guy is here from more than a one-hit wonder.

Give it a listen: Take Me to Church, Jackie and Wilson, Someone New

3. Walk the Moon “Talking Is Hard”
Walk the Moon came out with such an amazing debut album two years ago that I still, to this day, will listen to every single song at least once a month. That being said, I could not have been more ecstatic to find out that they had a follow-up coming out this year. Walk the Moon write, fun, upbeat, rock-pop gems and never fail. I have never disliked a song, even after falling on my butt to Shut Up and Dance in the middle of the dance floor at my wedding. Oh yeah. That happened.

Give it a listen: Shut Up and Dance, Sidekick, Portugal

2. Lake Street Dive Bad “Self Portraits”
Lake Street Dive was another band that I found through iTunes ‘Single of the Week’, and I could not be more happy that I did. Bad Self Portraits has amazing jazz influences, and the lead singer, Rachel Price, will take this Boston-based duo very far. One personal goal of mine for 2015 is to see this group live and in concert. Here’s hoping I make it a reality!

Give it a listen: Bad Self Portraits, What About Me, You Go Down Smooth

1. Sam Smith “In the Lonely Hour”
Unless you live under a rock, you understand what a monumental year Sam Smith had. This guy is about to sweep the Grammy’s, with an entire collection of heart-breaking songs sung with expertise. This guy makes every performance look completely effortless, despite the fact that he is hitting notes most people could only dream of. Sam Smith is a true talent, and I only hope his next album is as significant and impressive as his debut.

Give it a listen: I’m Not the Only One, Not In That Way, Latch (Acoustic)

So that’s it. My all-encompassing, but actually probably forgot somebody vital, list of the top 15 albums of 2014. You’ll notice no Taylor Swift. Sorry guys. I just can’t get on that train, even though I’m glad she’s dropped the whole “country” facade, and acknowledged that she is a pop act now.

As an apology for taking so long, I have also listed some exciting new projects, that I cannot wait for in 2015.

Ella Henderson Chapter One
Meghan Trainor Title
Imagine Dragons Smoke and Mirrors
Full-length albums from Mad Moon Riot and Ryn Weaver

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New EPs

I have been collecting EPs from a small collection of new artists that are trying their best to break-through into the music scene, and I, personally, cannot wait for each of them to make it happen. The first is Ryn Weaver, who’s hit OctaHate is the greatest synth-pop song I have heard in a very long time. Her voice is ethereal, smooth, and absolutely stunning. Weaver’s EP, Promises dropped in August, and I found that she is even more talented than I imagined. Check out her next single, Promises, for a lesson in high-class song-writing and catchy melodies.

Next, I found out that a personal favorite of mine, LA-based Mad Moon Riot, were dropping a FREE EP with the release of their new video, a cover of Bruno Mars’ Gorilla. If there are two things I love in this world, they are Bruno Mars and LA-based rock bands, therefore I was pumped! The new EP features Gorilla, which is a fantastic rock-infused take of the original, an updated version of Feels Like the Way that I am hoping will be the lead single, and an acoustic version of the band’s original single Running on Empty that features some beautiful piano work and gorgeous vocals. Kudos to guitarist, Pou Piam, for some truly amazing work on Gorilla, and lead singer Mia Swier, who has seriously upped her vocal game since the release of the group’s original EP.

Finally, I found MisterWives quite awhile back when their single, Reflections, was featured on iTunes’ Single of the Week. I was immediately hooked by lead singer Mandy Lee’s high soprano and the dance floor tune became a fast favorite for my workout playlist. When I discovered the band’s EP, I found there is more to them than dance floor jams and pop confection. Coffins features some beautiful strings and a slower tempo, and Kings and Queens showcases Lee on the verses with minimalistic background, building into big, bold choruses. Overall, Reflections will make you dance in your car, shower, apartment, wherever you play it, but it will also prove that MisterWives have more to show the world.

EPs are great. They give lesser known artists a way to show the world what they have, without releasing a whole album. Heck, I discovered Sam Smith through his genius Nirvana EP, and look where he is now! These three artists are just a few of the many talented people out there trying to make it big, and I am definitely rooting for each and every one of them!

P.S. MisterWives and Ryn Weaver’s EPs can be purchased on iTunes. You can grab Mad Moon Riot’s for FREE at madmoonriot.com, though all donations go to Adopt the Arts. So there’s that.

Bleachers

Do not call Bleacher’s album, from fun.’s Jack Antonoff, a side project. He is quick to assert that Bleachers and Strange Desires is a completely separate entity from the mega-popular fun. Upon listening to the album, it is easy to see that Antonoff is right. Strange Desires plays as an album much more rock-centered than the typically synthesized and top-40 vibe we have grown to expect from, and I quote, “that other band [he] sometimes plays in.” I grew up in the 90’s. I love the 90’s. I wish we could all go back and relive the 90’s. Because of this, it makes senses that I adore the debut album from Bleachers. The 90’s alt-rock influence is heavy and easy to hear.

I Wanna Get Better is the lead single, a raucous tribute to feeling stuck in a life and realizing there may be a way to turn it around. It is full of seemingly non-sensical lyrics that heighten the feeling of chaos, and yet accurately and astutely describe a life of monotony and dissatisfaction. Other personal favorites include: Rollercoaster, Wild Heart, and Reckless Love. 

If you are looking for a band that delivers classic, good old-fashioned rock, give Bleachers a try. If not, wait a few months until fun.’s next album drops. Because Antonoff doesn’t do side projects. He is simply in two bands at once.

Sam Smith

It’s clear that this whole blogging thing is becoming a pattern. I make a post, life gets busy, I disappear for a month or two, and then I’m back! Well, here goes another cycle, and who better to start us back up with the Sam Smith? This guy’s voice is like magic. It is so smooth, with falsettos that are insanely difficult and songs that are just plain heartbreaking. It is clear this guy went through some serious pain before writing his debut album, and anyone who has had their heart stomped on can definitely relate. 

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard Smith’s mega-smash Stay With Me, a beautiful pop gem about trying to cling to a one-night stand, simply in order to feel something. He has also been featured on Disclosure’s Latch and Naughty Boy’s La La La, both huge successes on the charts right now. I personally love Smith’s acoustic version of Latch off of his EP Nirvana more than the sped-up duet version. There is just something incredibly gripping and heartfelt in the slowed down tempo of Smith’s solo version.

Sam Smith’s debut album, In the Lonely Hour, is about to drop in a few weeks, and I simply cannot wait to see how far this British singer-songwriter can take his career. My personal favorites from the album so far include Money On My Mind and I’m Not the Only One. If the album is outside of your price range, give the Nirvana EP a try. There is a live version of I’ve Told You Now that proves that Sam is not just a great songwriter. He can sing. 

sam-smith-in-the-lonely-hour

 

Lake Street Dive

I know, I know. I’ve been MIA for quite some time. Turns out, finishing graduate school, moving to a new city, taking boards, and trying to find a job are all sort of time consuming activities. Now that I’m back, can we just discuss Lake Street Dive for a second? Because they are my favorite thing about music in 2014, even if it is only just barely breaking April. 

I cannot claim Lake Street Dive as my own discovery. Within a week, my former roommate, as well as my brother-in-law, both alerted me to the awesome that is this band. I could not be more grateful. Upon their recommendation, I decided to check the band on when their lead single, Bad Self Portraits, was posted as a Single of the Week on iTunes. It is absolutely perfect. Amazing jazz vocals from Rachael Price? Check. Soul influences in the drums and guitar? Check. Entertaining, self-aware lyrics? Double check. 

I could not get enough after that first listen, and, it turns out, the entire album is a revolution. With nods to old-school jazz and swing, 60’s soul, and a touch of 90’s pop, this band hits all the right notes. (Pun intended.) You Go Down Smooth is an upbeat, driving tune that has had me caught dancing in my car on more than one occasion. Better Than slows it down and proves this group can cover all your basics, ballads included. My favorite is probably Seventeen, a tale of meeting the right person at the not-quite-so-right time. If you are unwilling to take the plunge with new songs, give their album, Fun Machine, a listen. It’s a collection of covers that show the group’s true musical influences, from ABBA to The Beatles to Jackson 5. 

Sara Bareilles

Alright, this is not new information, but Sara Bareilles is amazing. She is a down-to-earth, cool chick who writes great songs and can play the tar out of that piano. I am so excited to see her really breaking through and getting some critical and popular love this past year. Brave is all over the radio, television commercials, and nearly any other place you can think of. It was riddled with controversy when Katy Perry released Roar, a power anthem with a nearly identical musical phrasing, melody, and theme. Considering Ms. Perry gave a shout-out to Brave long before Roar was released, I’m guessing she was aware of the similarities, but Sara handled with grace and a good sense of humor.

Apart from the large commercial hit of BraveThe Blessed Unrest includes other favorites such as I Choose You, Eden, and Little Black Dress. From her previous work on Little Voice, I adore Fairytale, a disillusioned look at storybook tales, and Come Round Soon and Gravity, a couple of beautiful ballads about love-gone-wrong. Sweet As Whole is from her EP, Once Upon A Time, and completely riddled with cursed words, start to finish. It is a charmingly light song about all of the truly terrible people there are out in the world. Put that song on after a day filled with jerks and frustrating know-it-alls. I guarantee you’ll feel better.

Now, it is exceedingly clear at this point that I adore Ms. Bareilles. She puts on a killer live show, seems like a genuinely funny and sweet person, and consistently puts out great music. My favorite collective piece from her thus far in her career? Kaleidoscope HeartFrom beginning to end, this album is genius. It is clear that Sara went through quite the heartbreak before writing this album, but the songs aren’t all sad and depressing. Say You’re Sorry and Gonna Get Over You are upbeat, catchy tunes about moving on with or without an apology.  Uncharted was a beautiful piece that became my personal theme for the two years I spent in graduate school, finding myself as an adult and learning how to live on my own. Other favorites include Machine Gun, Basket Case, and Bluebird, but, honestly, there is no going wrong here. 

MS MR

Alright kids. I have strayed from the path. I recently discovered MS MR, a band that is not based out of bright, sunny California. This dynamic duo hails from NYC, and I love them. MS MR consists of two people: the vocalist, Lizzy Plapinger, and the producer, Max Hershenow. To me, this pair is what would happen if Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire Cat decided to make some music. They are grittier and more imaginative than anything I’ve heard lately, layering light vocals on fantastical sounds. See Dark Doo Wop to hear what I’m saying.

I will be the first to admit, this group may be striking such a chord with me due to the lyrics. Their songs often describe an uncontrolled world, with unexpected chaos and decisions at every turn. As I near graduate school graduation, with a move to a yet-to-be-determined location, a licensure exam to pass, a wedding to plan, and a job to find, it’s nice to hear I’m not the only one searching for something steady to grab. Twenty Seven and This Isn’t Control make it seem okay to not have everything figured out.

Lyrics alone, however, will not make me a fan. Plapinger is an excellent front-woman, with a voice that sounds like a smirk. She proves ethereal and sweet on the haunting verses, while gripping you with powerful, soulful choruses. The production quality is great, creating the backdrop of a distorted fantasy, but, without Lizzy, it would fall flat.

Secondhand Rapture is packed with great songs choices, but I personally love Think of You, Bones, and Twenty Seven. The lead single, heard on any alt-rock radio station, is Hurricane.. MS MR leads the pack for acts I most want to see in the new year, so check them out.